August 29, 2023: USDLA CEO Pat Cassella pens the foreword to “Commencement: The Beginning of a New Era in Higher Education”

Hello USDLA friends — It was an honor to write the Foreword for Kate Colbert and Joe Sollustio’s bestseller, Commencement: The Beginning of a New Era in Higher Education. We had the opportunity to hear Kate discuss the book and the future of higher ed at the 2023 National Conference this year. We look forward to sharing an excerpt of her presentation with you in October when we’ll also be showcasing all four of our keynotes from the conference that will culminate in a fantastic webinar just before National Distance Learning Week. Stay tuned for details.

Please scroll down to read my special edition forward. And be sure to check out our Research of the Week featuring Kate’s article in fellow presenter Amrit Ahluwalia’s publication The EvoLLution entitled, “Fitting the College Experience into Already Full Lives.”

On this week’s USDLA to-do list:

  • Our new USDLA YouTube channel is live! Click here to subscribe to
  • Register for our Free Friday Webinar on Sept. 1 from 1-2 pm Eastern: “Global Educational Mentorship (GEM),” presented by Toni Hill, Olimpia Leite-Trambly, and Jane Miller. Learn more about the topic and presenters below.
  • Click here to sign up for this webinar, along with our September 8 topic: “Where to Start with IDEAs (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) — Understanding the Challenges & Opportunities!” presented by Rosemary Okoiti and Juliet C. Hart.
  • On Public Policy: Let us know what you’d like to learn in our upcoming Public Policy webinar series by clicking here to submit your input. Webinars are one hour and include a Q&A. Questions, thoughts, ideas? Send an email to committee chair Alexandra Salas:

We’ll be back in touch on Thursday with our weekly USDLA Brief. All the best! —  USDLA Communications Committee

Special edition foreword by Pat Cassella

“Commencement: The Beginning of a New Era in High Education,” by Kate Colbert and Joe Sallustio

Change is a constant — in our lives and in our work. And as we enter a new era in higher education, there is perhaps no better example of the ever-present power of change than within the virtual and physical walls of our colleges and universities in the United States. When managed accordingly, change in higher education can bring about truly positive outcomes.

As more higher education institutions embrace necessary change and notable innovation, we see a meaningful impact on campuses and communities, with a greater number of qualified graduates to fill high-paying, in-demand jobs and with increased learning productivity leading to degrees in a shorter timeframe. In the 2020s, higher education is speeding up, leveling up, and standing up to new challenges and opportunities.

However, what might be most concerning to today’s educational leaders is the rate of change we are currently experiencing — across every segment of the industry, across every type of learner population, and every intricate element of operation. Leaders who are asleep at the wheel might quickly see their bread-and-butter enrollment vanish faster than a federal budget dollar.

Students demand flexibility, instructors want to be compensated for the additional work and exponential increase in faculty/student relationships that hybrid instruction can require, and classes need to reflect jobs that don’t yet exist. So … are you still interested in that open University President position? Because it’s tough at the top in an industry under fire — an industry where you serve changing populations with changing

expectations through changing times. Kate Colbert and Dr. Joe Sallustio tell us in the opening pages of Commencement that “Higher education is no longer about ‘or.’ It’s about ‘and.’” They are right. Students, faculty, staff, administrators, employers, and higher education partners don’t just want something different today — they want (and deserve) more.

When the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) was founded some 36 years ago, we focused on providing video conferencing expertise and guidance to the global educational community. Colleges and universities around the world turned to our board of directors, comprising mostly institutional presidents and industry executives, to learn about design choices and best practices. In those early days, the data was primitive, and the video conference systems we spoke of were both expensive and unreliable.

But we are hard-wired for human connection — in our personal and professional lives and during our educational experiences — and the education industry had an opportunity to become more inclusive, more accessible, more flexible, and more affordable. And technology was key to the opportunities that lay before us. So, for all the shortcomings of “distance learning innovations” several decades ago, we were on a path to somewhere important, and USDLA stakeholders knew it. As such, industry professionals came to our conferences to hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly truths from the experts. Click here to read more!

Research of the Week by Kate Colbert: “Fitting the College Experience into Already Full Lives”

This article is excerpted from Commencement. This piece is from Chapter 3: Where Did All the Students Go?

By Kate Colbert and Joe Sallustio

As institutions of higher learning seize the opportunity to serve students who are 24+, the challenges will be many. A decent portion of today’s college and university leadership teams were themselves educated when college was the only thing on their “to-do” list — when they were taking classes full-time, living on campus, and free from the responsibilities of families or jobs. It was “all homework, all the time” (well, not all the time … there were football games, frat parties, and student clubs). Today’s higher-education decision-makers can invariably relate to the complex lives of adult students, but they rarely have a frame of reference for having juggled it all at once. Dr. Frank J. Dooley, Chancellor of Purdue University (based in West Lafayette, Indiana), told us how his institution thinks about flexibility for busy students.

He said: “As an online institution of working adults, one of the things that we find for our students is that sometimes life gets in the way. And by that, I mean something could have come up at work. Something could be health-related. And so, we’re fairly liberal on our policy for withdrawals, with the notion, you know, ‘Come back to us in six or seven weeks when life is going to work for you again.’”

I nearly wept with validation upon hearing those words. I was once a student for whom “life got in the way.” And when an appeal all the way to the president’s office during my own undergraduate experience got me nowhere in terms of compassion for my situation (a medical diagnosis in the middle of an academic term and a need to have urgent surgery), I was forced to remain in classes and on campus in terrible pain for another seven weeks because my family could not afford for me to withdraw and pay to repeat the courses after my surgery. I put my college ahead of my health because there was no “medical leave of absence” policy to help me; it was an impossible situation and one in which I, as a student, had no control. Today, students have so much more control and garner so much more respect. Time and time again, as Dr. Joe Sallustio and I conducted the research and participated in the conversations for this book, we discovered that higher education is so much more thoughtful, strategic, compassionate, impactful, and student-centered than it was when we cracked open our first college textbooks.

For all the ways in which the 100+ presidents told us that the future is bright, I can’t help but observe that even the present is a lot brighter than our past. The higher-education industry is evolving to serve students better than before. Leaders at institutions of all kinds are talking candidly about — and developing new policies and processes around — gap years and breaks. Click here to read the entire article on The EvoLLution.

Free Friday Webinar on Sept. 1, 1-2 pm Eastern: Where to Start with IDEAs? Understanding the Challenges & Opportunities!

Presenters: Rosemary Okoiti and Juliet C. Hart

About the Webinar: IDEAs (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) is a complicated and challenging topic for anyone. Nevertheless, it’s not a reason not to start the conversations around it. But where to start? This session is to support learning professionals to get comfortable with the idea of discomfort. Allowing for a brave space to hear your thoughts, challenges, and needs of others is critical to letting IDEAs flourish. Come and participate in this important discussion and share with us your experiences so you can support your learners.

About the presenters:

Rosemary Okoiti is the Learning & Development Manager at Winrock International. She is also the founder and CEO of Rosemary Okoiti Consulting, a company that coaches and trains professionals to take the leap to reinvent themselves into successful entrepreneurs. She has extensive global experience in three continents covering intercultural business coaching & facilitation; training delivery, design and management of Leadership development programs, compliance and on-boarding. She is passionate about helping you start & run your own successful business as well as designing and delivering engaging learning solutions that help learners grow to their highest potential while driving achievement of strategic business goals. Rosemary’s global exposure through talent development as well as her personal experiences have driven her passion for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leading to her involvement in advocating for it. She has co-facilitated DE&I workshops and coaching sessions to over 12 ATD Chapters as well as for-profit organizations in the past two years. She co-created the DEI Community of Champions for ATD Chapters. She served on the Board of Directors of the Association for Talent Development New York City (ATD NYC) chapter as the Vice President of Talent Management from 2019 to 2021. She is currently a member of the ALC Programs Advisory Committee 2022-2023. Rosemary holds a Masters of Education in Entrepreneurship Development from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a Bachelors of Education in Economics & Business from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. She is a Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD) and a Certified Professional Coach (CPC).

Juliet C. Hart specializes in developing the leadership capabilities of scientists and their organizations. She is the founder of Hart & Chin, a company that offers workshops, coaching, and consulting services. Juliet believes that strengthening the leadership and interpersonal skills of scientists will make them more effective leaders, who will have a larger impact and create greater value for the organizations they serve. Previously working as a scientist and with scientists at Johnson & Johnson, she has seen the impact of her work drive employee engagement, increase collaboration, and stimulate innovation across functions. She has lead trainings on developing leadership & management skills, cross-cultural awareness, presentation pitching, & communications skills. Juliet established her expertise in learning and development through progressive roles within pharmaceutical giants such as Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb. In addition, she has obtained management training from the Yale School of Management. She began her journey in drug discovery as a laboratory scientist at small to mid-sized biotech companies and at Janssen (J&J) in San Diego, CA. Juliet earned her Bachelor’s degree from the City University of New York – Hunter College in psychology. There she conducted research in biopsychology as a National Institutes of Health – Scholar Fellow, published papers, contributed to the National Academy of Sciences, and presented at international conferences. As a native of Brooklyn, NY and working in the sciences, she has experienced the complexities of living and working in culturally diverse environments and relates her experiences in her work.

Click here to sign up for this Free Friday Webinar!